Federal Judge Blocks Texas Ban on School Mask Mandates
The judge ruled Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge struck down Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on school mask mandates, allowing for local leaders to choose whether or not they want to require masks in their school districts.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel made his ruling Wednesday, citing the ban violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that protects disabled students’ access to public education.
According to NPR, days after Abbott issued an executive order imposing the ban in August, the nonprofit advocacy group Disabled Rights Texas filed a lawsuit against the state and its top officials, including Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Educational Agency and its commissioner, Mike Morath.
The suit alleged the ban prohibited accommodations for disabled children who are particularly vulnerable to the effect of COVID-19.
“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” Yeakel wrote in his ruling. “Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and to require admission to a hospital and the hospital’s intensive-care unit.”
In his ruling, Yeakel also noted more than 211,000 Texas students had tested positive between the beginning of the school year and Oct. 31. As a result, at least 45 districts in the state have temporarily shut down.
“We are thankful that school districts can now take the steps necessary to protect these students,” Kym Davis Rogers, litigation attorney at Disability Rights Texas, wrote in a statement. “No student should be forced to make the choice of forfeiting their education or risking their health, and now they won’t have to.”
The ruling will prohibit Paxton from imposing fines, withholding educational funding, or suing school districts that implement a mask requirement. So far, he has sued 15 school districts in an attempt to overturn their mandates. Paxton tweeted that he “strongly disagreed” with the ruling and that his “agency is considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision.”
A recent poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found 57% of voters support mask requirements in indoor public spaces based on local conditions, and 58% support mask requirements for students and staff in public schools.
The ruling may set a precedent for other states that have put similar bans in place, including Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.